sports psychologist & clinical psychology

A Sneak Preview of CaneSportMagazine.com and Football Psychology

Note: Publisher Jim Martz writes a great column on football at CaneSportMagazine, an online and print publication dedicated to the University of Miami. In the not-yet-published upcoming issue, he spoke with Dr. John F Murray about the letdown teams experience after success, and about real versus artificial enthusiasm. Below is the raw and unedited version of Jim’s contribution, re-printed here in its entirety with his permission. Those interested in the University of Miami football should subscribe to this terrific publication and all the great contributions at http://www.CaneSportMagazine.com. I hope you enjoy the below article as an example of quality of writing you will find there.

By JIM MARTZ – CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA. – It sounded like New Year’s Eve here Saturday afternoon. Every time Virginia scored, the band would strike up “Auld Lang Syne.” And they did it often, much to their surprise and delight. They change the words, of course. It’s not about “Should auld acquaintance be forgot?” For the Cavaliers’ fans it’s a celebration song, and it was party time on this cool, sunny day.

Virginia’s football season had been practically down the toilet going into the game. Now the University of Miami’s season is on the brink of being down there. It’s anything but party time.

Virginia’s stunning 24-19 upset victory over 22nd-ranked Miami marked the third time in the last four games that the Hurricanes seemed flat for much or all of a game. How can that happen Saturday on a team that controlled its own destiny toward a BCS bowl? On a team that finally had the schedule in its favor?  Who’s to blame: coaches or team leadership? Or both?

“Tough loss,” said coach Randy Shannon. “You can’t win a game when you have six turnovers (it was five) like we did. We moved the ball offensively but when you have six turnovers there’s no way you should win games. “We played well in the fourth quarter and got a chance to win it. Defensively we hung in there the whole entire time, just didn’t come up with the third down play to get off the field and give the offense another shot at it.”

The Hurricanes can still reach the ACC Championship game in Charlotte but they’ll need help. Someone will have to knock off Virginia Tech, and, of course, the Hurricanes will have to defeat the Hokies at home Nov. 20. And, obviously, the Canes will have to defeat Maryland at home this Saturday and win at Georgia Tech on Nov. 13. And they may have to do it with their fourth-string quarterback, true freshman Stephen Morris.  “We’ve got to bounce back,” Shannon said. “We don’t control our destiny any more. We’ll bounce back and get ready for Maryland next week.”

Does Saturday’s setback alter the goals? “No, we still have to win each game one by one and just keep going from there,” Shannon said. Each year lately the Hurricanes tease you, make you think they can play for the ACC title. Then they break your heart. Yes, the loss of Jacory Harris early in the second quarter was huge. But against a 3-4 Virginia team that had been blown out by Florida State and North Carolina, the Canes should have been able to win without him. They should have been able to win by just pounding the ball. The Cavaliers ranked 114th in the nation in rushing defense, for heaven’s sake. Georgia Tech ran for nearly 500 yards against them. I thought the backs for the most part ran hard, but they didn’t have many holes. If someone had said to me before the game that Virginia would intercept five passes, I would have said that’s impossible because you don’t need to throw a whole lot to win that game.

Lots of unanswered questions, such as: Why didn’t Lamar Miller didn’t touch the ball until the fourth quarter? During the too-little-too-late comeback, why was Stephen Morris throwing deep so often when the Canes were finally getting big chunks of yards on the ground? Why are there so many dropped balls by receivers still at this stage of the season? Zero sacks by a Hurricane defense that was second in the nation in tackles for loss? Only one turnover for a defense that also ranked among the best? Unacceptable against a team the caliber of Virginia, especially with all that was at stake. Twelve penalties costing 95 yards? Unacceptable against anyone.

It’s hard to offer answers when questions can only be posed to the head coach and four players after a game. That’s all that was made available to the media after Saturday’s game. The media used to be able to go in the locker room and interview – if you hustled – a dozen players and two or three assistants. Now, since the locker room has been closed in recent years and assistants have been off limits, only Shannon and a few players are brought in to an interview room. A few more players are available at the Tuesday press conference but no assistants, and a few players, sometimes assistants, are available after early week practices.

My point: Access to UM football players and coaches has never been this limited going back to the 1970s, perhaps even longer. So, when fewer answers are available, even more questions are raised and unanswered. And just when you thought the Canes’ stellar play in the romp over North Carolina a week ago had quieted the critics, the negativism now will soar on the talk show and chat rooms. It won’t stop unless the Hurricanes run the table and get some lucky help.

Even that probably won’t quiet things because this question will remain: Why are the Hurricanes so inconsistent mentally and physically? Allow me to offer this, and it’s not an excuse: College football has never been more fluid than it has been the last five seasons. It becomes moreso every year. How else do you explain all the wacky scores, like undefeated fifth-ranked Michigan State trailing 30-0 at the half against Iowa.? Or Virginia Tech losing at home to James Madison, or was it Dolly Madison? Or Texas getting stomped on at home by UCLA and Iowa State but knocking off undefeated Nebraska on the road? Or the Florida Gators returning most of their team but losing three in a row? The list goes on and on.

I asked Shannon if the team was excited or flat before Harris was injured. “We were still excited no matter what,” he said. “Any time you lose somebody it’s going to go down a little bit. Like I said, we bounced back and the guys responded.” With all these ups and downs, maybe the Hurricanes need some psychological help. Sports psychologists are more involved in working with athletes and teams than ever. Some old school coaches see it as a sign of weakness; others embrace it.

I talked to prominent sports psychologist Dr. John Murray of Palm Beach about ups and downs. He had a poignant message: “It’s so easy after success to have a letdown,”he said. “After success you’ve really got to focus on making your game even better. Immediately get in there and set another goal to make it even better than it was before. Number two, you need to have a sense of urgency. There’s always room for improvement. Three, keep doing what you do best. And finally, walk the walk. If you want to improve, just don’t talk about it.”

Then there’s the matter of genuine enthusiasm (is that what we saw in the North Carolina game?) and false enthusiasm, such as the day at Louisville a few years ago under Larry Coker when the Canes stomped on the Cardinals’ midfield logo before the kickoff, then got stomped on themselves by Louisville.

“Real or genuine enthusiasm is the sincere overflow of hard work, effort, and a long-term focus on a worthy goal,” Murray said. “It is a no holds barred passion that shows that a person’s past history or team is invested fully in what they are doing, and that they are going to give 110% effort to accomplish the task they are focused on no matter what happens or no matter how long it takes. “When I think of real enthusiasm I think more of great performances than cheerleading. I think of Kellen Winslow (Sr.) in the 1981 playoffs for the San Diego Chargers, who looked like he had been pulled off the battlefield five times and just kept on going back out. I think of Marcos Baghdatis continuing to play despite a terrible cramp. I think of Dan Marino and the Dolphins preventing the Bears in ’85 from stealing their immortal accomplishment in ’72 of going undefeated and beating the Bears in front of a national audience.

“Artificial enthusiasm is when a player or team gets excited when things are going well, but then goes flat when there is adversity. Artificial enthusiasm might also have less of a focused or enduring or patient or persistent quality than real or genuine enthusiasm. Vince Spadea coming back from the biggest losing streak in the history of pro tennis by grinding for two years in the middle of nowhere until his ranking was decent enough to return to the sport he loved even more after the effort – that is real or genuine enthusiasm. It is also more characterized by a team or player’s desire to do well themselves rather than to put down another team or player. In other words, genuine enthusiasm is focused on performing well and realizing a long and hard-fought desire or goal. It has neither time nor interest in putting others down or stomping on logos, for goodness sakes. It is a more healthy selfish quality of affect that is oblivious to the opponent and how ugly they might be or how much that rival is despised.”

The Canes don’t stop on logos any more. Fans wish they’d stomp on opponents more often like the teams of the 1980s and early 90s. Dream on, you’re not going to see that again at UM. But a team can strike a balance between the taunting days of old and false bravado. The 2001 national champion Hurricanes had that balance. They had big-time swagger and class. The current Canes have class. The swagger seems to make cameo appearances.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the world of Miami Hurricanes football and sports psychology.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply